We are on the island of Dominica for the first time since it experienced the devastating Hurricane Maria in September 2017. Maria was the first Category 5 hurricane to ever strike Dominica, and caused catastrophic damage.
With sustained winds of 160mph, and frequent gusts above 200mph, Maria stripped the leaves from virtually every tree. The high winds also took off most or all of the branches from many trees. Of course, many trees also toppled over completely.
Something like 90% of all houses lost their roofs, along with many schools and commercial buildings. Dominica is a very poor country, so resources to recover and rebuild are hard to come by.
We have been very concerned about the fate of our friends on Dominica, and anxious to see how the island is recovering five months after the storm. Yesterday we took a taxi tour over the northern part of the island, and could see the damage and progress for ourselves.
Hillsides that used to be solid canopies of green look gray, showing the trunks of trees. The good news is that most trees seem to be recovering, sprouting leaves from their trunks and remaining branches. The palm trees have grown a few new fronds. The understory of the forest looks almost normal, except for the downed trees littering the forest floor.
Nearly every farm was destroyed, and most of the crops take 6-12 months to bear fruit. Fruit trees like oranges and mangos mostly survived, but will also take a year before the next harvest. Many farmers have turned to growing vegetables that can bear more quickly. We saw many freshly-tilled plots, and others in progress.
The progress in repairing houses and buildings is remarkable. While many houses still are covered in blue tarps, many more have been re-roofed. There are still piles of rubble and crumpled corrugated steel panels in many places, a great deal of this has been removed and put into holding areas. The roads have all been cleared and temporary bridges put in place where needed.
Aid from outside Dominica is very evident. We saw facilities and materials from US AID, UNICEF, the UN Food Program, and several private charities. The people here are truly grateful for the help. They need it.
Our driver took us to Anse du Mé, a small fishing village on the northeast coast of the island. There we saw two small motorboats, perhaps 20 or 25 feet long, unloading vegetables and dairy products that they had brought from Marie Galante, an island that belongs to Guadeloupe. Thinking about crossing the 20 miles of open ocean in such a small boat is frightening, especially since the whole Caribbean is experiencing large waves, 8-10 feet, at the moment. We rarely see fisherman wearing life jackets, but all of these brave sailors had them on. A couple had wet suits, trying stay warm as waves break over their boat. Even though it was almost sunset, both boats returned to Marie Galante for another load, planning to return in the morning.
Prince Rupert Bay by Portsmouth looks almost normal, at least at first glance. There are maybe 50 sailboats on moorings or at anchor, what you would typically find at this time of year. Looking closer, you realize that nearly all of the small restaurants on the shore are gone completely, all but one of the dinghy docks have disappeared, the large ferry/cruise ship dock on the northern shore is gone.
The yacht services cooperative, PAYS, is one of the most successful in the Caribbean. They have been working very hard trying to rebuild the boating economy, and to get back into the rhythm that we Yachties have so much enjoyed. They are very glad to see the boats returning, have restarted all of their tours and other offerings. They have resumed their weekly benefit Barbeques, and we are looking forward to attending on Sunday. It is wrenching to see the warm smiles, knowing that many are living in houses with no roofs, and no electricity.
We are heartened by the progress we have seen, while very aware of how much work remains to be done. Mother nature is very resilient, but it will be years before the forests are back to normal. It will be fascinating to see how things have changed when we return next year.